Can TV journalism survive the social media revolution?

Notes from BBC Two’s Royal Television Society’s lecture “#BreakingNews: Can TV Journalism Survive the Social Media Revolution?” with Lyse Doucet.


The breaking news stories now come to us, we now have instant access to news via social media. Where does the role of citizen journalism come into play? And how should journalists harness this?

There has been a revolution in the way that we tell stories. Citizen journalists and activists are all involved in sending their news and being the story themselves. For example, BB messenger was used to plan attacks because of its strict privacy. In seconds or minutes “network news” is breaking at the speed of life – with posts and reposts of information.


Where to broadcast journalists stand?

The battle to be first

There are now more journalists in different countries ready to report. With the tool of a smartphone, you can do everything a broadcast journalist does – tweet, post videos and photos and record audio. And if a journalist is’t doing it, then someone else with a phone will be.

The 1983 famine report by Michael Buerk sparked so much compassion that then lead to the creation of Live Aid.

Broadcast journalists cannot ignore the growing impact of social media, which in some places and in with some stories in hard to access countries is the only way to see what’s happening.
140 characters of excitement, fear and involvement – #iranelections became the only way to cover the event from the inside information of citizen journalists, with 200-2500 updates per minute.

Twitter and Facebook take you inside the heads and hearts of those making the news. We are no longer detached and we are part of a “global village.” However we don’t always get both sides and information is often fake or biased.

“If you don’t get on Twitter and Facebook then you’re not doing your job”

Some journalists refused to get on social media and the younger generation went straight to it when hearing about breaking news. African women activists were using social media and were followed by journalists, activists, organisations and those interested.

With the Pakistan floods, people used the hashtag #Pakfloods to report on the weather where they were and suddenly a personal news channel of tweets and retweets emerged. New insights into the mood of a nation appeared and it showed the BBC’s interest and involvement in the event. Social media lets you see what your rivals and audience are thinking and saying.

There is no question that the power of social media is an essential tool for journalists, and that there is a Facebook revolution.


The mistakes

There have been huge mistakes because of this constant influx of information. People have been pronounced dead several times when they weren’t, videos and photos have been faked and reported by media, and people are pretending to be other people – for example “a gay girl in Damascus” was actually a man from the USA.

The story about 19 year old Zainab who was detained and decapitated and tortured to death was then turned on its head because she later appeared on television alive and well.

How do we minimise the risk of error?

The UGC  – user generated content – brings us all points of view from all points in the world, and the BBC and other organisations are now creating UGC hubs where a team of producers are getting to the source of content, be it photos, videos or other. They use Google maps to match up locations and check the authenticity of sound. Has the video been edited? Has a photo been changed?
Every news room is establishing ground rules for their journalists to follow. Journalists are busier than before – and they have to be careful to separate their private and professional lives online. It is important to be aware of when to break a story and when not to – and about voicing your point of view.

Is it a matter of time before social media topples broadcast journalism?

Even though Facebook and Twitter may get there first, it has been monitored that when social media highs appear – tv viewing goes up at the same time. The authority, story telling and quality journalism are all still important and a trusted source we go back to. The story and the story teller still matter, we need the faces and the correspondents to give us a reality check and to reassure us. We always end up going back to the source that we trust.

Speed is only one part of the news – above all accuracy is the most important factor. Journalists are the people who have to get it right to survive- and social media has become the greatest confirmation of this need for modern media survival.

But this has not replaced the best way to clarify a complicated story, which is to be there yourself. Until you go to a country and experience the sights, sounds, smells and discover the real truth, the story is untold.

It’s not easy or safe and many are killed or kidnapped on the job – so for the times we can’t be in the field, social media is important to tell all sides. Social media is about democracy and bringing journalism into a wider space.

“You’re only as good as your next story”

With ever-growing scrutiny on ethics, and ever-changing technology there is a great challenge to be the best and be the first.
We have to be on the right side of history – trying to understand it and to get it right.


0 Responses to “Can TV journalism survive the social media revolution?”

  • No Comments

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar